Saturday, February 4, 2017

O CANADA! BLOGATHON: JOE SAWYER


Joe Sawyer
(1906 - 1982)


The Maple Leaf Forever! It is time once again for the O Canada Blogathon hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings and running from February 3 - 5.   Day 1.  Day 2.  Day 3.

Above is a picture of an old pal of mine, Sgt. Biff O'Hara. Are you acquainted with Sgt. Biff? He was stationed at Fort Apache on the TV series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (1954-1959). I didn't watch the show during its initial run, not being around at the time, but in the 60s the show was on air immediately after school and I would settle in for fun and the promised-in-the-title adventures.

Biff O'Hara was played by Joe Sawyer, born Joseph Sauers in Guelph, Ontario on August 29, 1906. The Guelph Mercury Tribune published an article on the city's native son including an interview with one of Joe's sons, Riley in 2014.  Joe was raised in Guelph, attending school there, but worked summers on a relative's Saskatchewan farm. Somehow all of this instilled in the young man both a strong work habit and a desire for the stage.

Joe had a role in a brief Broadway run in 1930 of a revival of The Inspector General. After that, it was the sunshine of California and training at the famed Pasadena Playhouse. Bit roles in films followed including The Public Enemy, Arsene Lupin, Shopworn, The Stranger's Return, Ace of Aces, The Case of the Howling Dog, Death on the Diamond and The Whole Town's Talking. These and other movies are fun on their own, but I have even more fun by playing "spot Joe Sawyer", especially in Warner Brothers flicks.



"Now just behave yourselves and nobody will get hurt. This is Duke Mantee, the world famous killer, and he's hungry."
The Petrified Forest

An outstanding role came Sawyer's way as Barty Mullholland, an IRA hit man in John Ford's Oscar winning 1935 film The Informer. Sawyer would be on familiar ground as a henchman in the same year's The Arizonian featuring The Informer co-star Margot Grahame. 1936 would bring what I think of as Sawyer's ultimate henchman role, among dozens, as Jackie, the hot-headed second to Humphrey Bogart's escaped convict in The Petrified Forest.



"Someday I'm gonna catch that ape without his stripes on and I'm gonna kick his teeth out."
The Roaring Twenties

Sawyer definitely doesn't do Bogie any favours as the member of a hate group modeled on the KKK in 1937s The Black Legion. He's behind bars in 1937s San Quentin, and a hated (by Bogie anyway) WWI sergeant in The Roaring Twenties. Things don't end well back in the States.

The 1940s find Joe Sawyer in a number of films with a variety of roles. Classic titles include The Long Voyage Home and The Grapes of Wrath. Joe was featured in popular westerns such as The Dark Command, Santa Fe Trail, They Died With Their Boots On, The Outlaw and Coroner Creek.

Comedies benefited from Joe Sawyer's talents including Brewster's Millions, The Naughty Nineties and The Singing Sheriff starring Bob Crosby. You like film-noir? You'll find Sawyer strutting around the casino in Gilda and as a lovelorn drunk in Deadline at Dawn. I'm fond of him as a private detective in the oddball Christmas Eve, which works best in the wee hours of the title evening with a little bottled Holiday cheer.



"Don't worry about Frank. He'll be all right."
It Came from Outer Space

1950s features with Joe Sawyer include distinguished films such as Kubrick's The Killing and Richard Brooks' Deadline - U.S.A. Some movies may be less distinguished, but still favourites like It Came From Outer Space, Red Skies of Montana and The Kettles in the Ozarks.

During the 1930s, not wanting to rely on movie bits, Joe Sawyer turned to the construction business and did very well building homes. According to his son Riley, Joe enjoyed the life that both businesses provided for his family. Joe could indulge in his hobbies, including fishing, shooting, reading, cars, and enjoying card games and relaxing times with good friends like John Wayne and Bela Lugosi.

Joe and his beloved second wife June Golden, a former MGM starlet, had 5 children and a happy marriage until her death from leukemia in 1960. Joe's family relates that he started turning away from life after the loss, but it was John Wayne who talked him back into work with a part in North to Alaska. After one more movie bit in How the West Was Won, Joe would return full time to his property development business which included houses, shopping centres and a hospital.

In his golden years Joe enjoyed travelling the world, until illness forced him to settle down. Joe Sawyer passed from liver cancer in his 75th year on April 21, 1982. Riley Sawyer's quote from the newspaper article says everything, "He was a great father".











18 comments:

  1. I saw a number of the films you mentioned, including THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING recently, so I must have seen him. He looks like he'd fit into a Ford movie.

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    1. Now you have to watch old movies playing my "spot Joe Sawyer" game. Won't that be fun?

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  2. Here's a new character actor for me. Now that you've introduced me to Joe, I'm sure I will start noticing him; it always works that way! It sounds as if versatility was one of his strengths.

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    1. Indeed, that is the way the movie universe works. You never notice a guy and suddenly he's everywhere.

      Joe could be as funny as he could be menacing. The type of guy directors would want in their pictures.

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  3. I've seen at least a few movies with him in it, although I didn't notice his name in the credits. (And I USED TO BE such a great credits junkie, staying for the credits in the movies just to see who played who and i could remember names way down the road... Gotta tell you my Matt Clark story sometime...)

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    1. I think my brain may be loaded with too much credit reading. Lately it is taking me extra seconds before I put a name to a face. Oh, the shame of it all.

      Remember to tell me your Matt Clark story sometime.

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  4. I always say, "Oh that guy!" whenever I see Joe Sawyer. And that's exactly what I said when I clicked on your post and saw him. I had no idea he was such a busy actor, or that he had a construction business. He was one busy Canuck!

    Thanks for joining the blogathon and for giving us (me) a greater appreciation for Joe Sawyer.

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    1. My thanks go to you. I had great fun strolling down Memory Lane with Joe Sawyer's career.

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  5. Great title for this piece as that's exactly what one finds themselves doing with actors like Joe and the like. He has such a large list of titles that you can't help but spot him year in and year out.

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    1. Whether he is a good guy or a bad guy, the sight of Joe Sawyer in a movie always cheers me. Maybe "Spot Joe Sawyer" will overtake 6 Degrees of Separation. Well, maybe not.

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  6. I've seen many of the films you mentioned, being The Informer a favorite of mine, but I couldn't spot Joe Sawyer. I'll try to do it - after all, spotting bit players is quite an amusement for classic film fans!
    Kisses!
    Le

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  7. I'm sure, now that you know him a little better, that you will be spotting Joe Sawyer all over the place. In The Informer he is one of the fellows tasked with bringing Gypo in and he's quite keen on the assignment.

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  8. I've seen Joe around from time to time, but now I know him better. Thanks for the introduction!

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    1. I'm sure he would be just as pleased to make your acquaintance, JT.

      One of my favourite of his bits is small, but a hoot. He's a drunk in Deadline at Dawn - one of those friendly sorts and harmless to others. H'm, that's an odd, but compelling little movie. Wonder why I haven't written about it yet.

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  9. This is super, always love to spot him in movies but am sort of ashamed to say I had no idea he was from Guelph, just minutes from me! Thanks so much for taking part, always great to have you along :)

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    1. I didn't know he was a good Ontario lad until a few years ago and it tickled me greatly.

      As always, my pleasure to participate in such a sterling blogathon.

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  10. I assumed my 'Spot Joe Sawyer' moments were from the million times I saw him noir films...but a check of IMDb just now shows he was in only four! So I guess I have to expand my horizons a bit to play this game. A fun post, Patricia...lots of neat Sawyer tidbits!

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    1. I feel the same way about Joe's connection to noir. He just looks so good in black and white and so snazzy in a fedora.

      Thanks.

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